Posted By: Cheryl Rodgers

5S is a basic tool for getting Lean started in a factory environment. The elements of 5S (Sort, Set-in Order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain) make perfect sense on the shop floor or in a warehouse and can be taught to workers and implemented within a few hours. But what about office environments? Yes, it can be applied to messy desks and storage areas but, really, who cares. In fact, most of what goes on in an office environment deals with invisible objects moving through similarly invisible processes.

Looking at typical office wastes we find them to be Excess Inventory (expressed as WIP), Excess Waiting Time (people waiting to be employed), Over processing (too many "actors" in the process), Defects (resulting in errors, and ultimately, rework) and Underutilization of People's Skills (because jobs are broken down too finely). How can 5S apply to this? See below.

  • Sort: Remove extra (non-value added) steps and people from the process.
  • Set-in Order: Streamline and balance the process to eliminate WIP and underutilization of Skills
  • Shine: Clarify people's roles and train them accordingly
  • Standardize: Speaks for itself. Includes standardizing processes and tools.
  • Sustain: Hold the gains in a formal way using periodic audits and key metrics.

While this simplified approach to improving office processes may not apply to everything, it represents a method of approach that, supplemented by appropriate Lean tools, can be applied widely, taught easily, and implemented quickly.